'Project Stallion': Toronto police recover more than a thousand stolen vehicles

More than 500 charges laid against 228 people, including at least 21 individuals under the age of 18

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A nearly yearlong investigation into vehicle and catalytic converter thefts has resulted in 1,000 stolen vehicles being recovered and more than 500 charges laid against 228 people.

Toronto police announced the conclusion of “Project Stallion,” which began in November 2022, earlier this week.

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“Project Stallion is a reflection of how seriously the Toronto Police Service is taking the issue of vehicle thefts in Toronto,” said chief Myron Demkiw, adding that is just one of the strategic and intelligence-led initiatives the service has undertaken to tackle vehicle theft.

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There have been nearly 10,000 reported vehicle thefts across Toronto this year, besting last year’s record-setting number of more than 9,600 vehicles that were stolen from the city. The vast majority of those vehicles end up at destinations overseas, where they are resold.

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As part of the strategy to reduce vehicle thefts, Toronto police announced the formation of the Provincial Carjacking Joint Task Force last week.

The task force is aimed at addressing the rising incidents of violence related to auto crimes, whether it be a carjacking, a home invasion, an assault or other form of intimidation.

“The level of violence being used in the commission of these offences represents a new and evolving threat to public safety,” TPS said in a news release.

Authorities are hoping to disrupt the criminal networks responsible for auto thefts, with policing agencies from across the Greater Toronto Area working with external partners, like the Criminal Intelligence Service of Ontario (CISO).

Police say the 1,000 recovered vehicles are valued at nearly $60 million, highlighting how lucrative the operations are for criminal enterprise.

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Speaking at a press conference on Wednesday, superintendent Ron Taverner said the conclusion of Project Stallion does not “mark the end of our commitment to addressing the serious issue of auto theft.”

“We recognize that for many people in the city, their vehicles may never be recovered. And more importantly, their feelings of safety and security have been compromised. This can happen as a result of having your car stolen out of your driveway. But even more so if you’ve been a victim of carjacking or other violence, which can be incredibly traumatic to victims and their loved ones,” he said.

Taverner added that the car theft rings appear to be using the services of younger people, with at least 21 of those charged under the age of 18.

“It seems they’re younger, and young offenders are being involved in these thefts,” he said. “This all revolves around money. It’s a lucrative business for people. They’re being resold, they’re being shipped overseas, they’re being re-vinned (given new Vehicle Identification Numbers). There are all kinds of things that are taking place. So it’s very lucrative, and our initiatives are to target the groups that are actually involved in these schemes.”

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Police say it’s generally high-end vehicles that are being targeted, from residential locations, public parking lots, airports and anywhere else they might be parked.

“They’re all very, very vulnerable (locations),” said Taverner. “We have nighttime driveway thefts. We have hotel thefts, where people leave their vehicles for extended periods of time, and things like the Woodbine Casino area, there’s a large number of vehicles stolen from there, so everything is a target.”

In April, as part of Project Stallion, police announced more than 550 vehicles had been recovered, worth an estimated $27 million.

When that announcement was made, officer Peter Wheby said the spike in auto thefts was not limited to the GTA.

“This is a now provincial, national and even international problem,” he said, adding that many of the vehicles recovered were bound for the Port of Montreal, where they can be shipped to markets overseas and sold well above retail price.

To dissuade potential thieves, police are telling the public to remove FOBs from vehicles and place them in Faraday pouches that block radio waves used by cellphones, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. They also recommend parking indoors or in well-lit areas when possible, and installing high-quality surveillance cameras no more than three metres off the ground.

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Warning devices, such as audible alarms, steering wheel locks, theft deterrent decals and identification markers can also help prevent thefts. Tracking devices and immobilizing devices, such as ignition kill-switches, can also be effective.

Earlier this year, a Toronto man took matters into his own hands after he had a Range Rover stolen from his driveway for the second time.

Using a radio-frequency tracking device, Stephen Taub, 64, tracked the vehicle to a shipping container at the Port of Montreal. He then travelled there to recover it himself after Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) agents told him it could take up to four months to open the container due to staffing shortages.

After he arrived at the CBSA office in Montreal, agents arranged for him to retrieve his Range Rover the next day.

“It’s a real business for these criminals,” Taverner said in April. “There needs to be something in place where the owners of these containers have to report what’s in their containers. None of that is currently done. For the most part, (the accused) go to court, are seen for a property crime and end up with little or no real sentence.”

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